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Iran's culture minister hangs on to face charges

TEHRAN, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Iran's influential minister of culture, the man behind a revival of the country's arts and letters, said on Tuesday he was not prepared to step down under the cloud of a judicial inquiry. Satire here

Ataollah Mohajerani, minister of culture and Islamic guidance, told reporters outside a closed parliamentary hearing that his earlier offers of resignation were on hold pending a court case against him for alleged misuse of funds.

Mohajerani, blamed by the conservative establishment for what it sees as a watering down of Islamic and revolutionary ideals, submitted his resignation to President Mohammad Khatami in early October.

Press reports said at the time it was the minister's second attempt to step down. Neither offer has been accepted by Khatami, himself a former culture minister once forced out by hardliners.

"A dossier entitled 'offences of the minister of culture and Islamic guidance', has been compiled by the Inspectorate General, and I must give a response," said Mohajerani.

"I will remain minister of guidance while the file is before the courts."

At issue are allegations that his ministry improperly used interest earned on deposits by Muslim pilgrims for the Haj to Mecca, an obligation for all believers able to make or afford the trip.

The ministry says it used the interest to build and stock provincial libraries and provide other cultural services. It also cites similar practices by past administrations.

But critics say the monies should be returned to the pilgrims, some of whom have waited years for their trips.

Mohajerani has been under sustained attack by conservatives who accuse him of failing to stem the tide of "Westoxification" in newspapers, books and cinema.

But reformist activists have criticised the proposed resignation saying the minister should resist hardliners' pressure to leave the cabinet.


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